Obituary: Professor Tom Bottomore

Thomas Burton Bottomore, sociologist, born 8 April 1920, Reader in Sociology London School of Economics 1952-64, Professor of Sociology Simon Fraser University Vancouver 1965-67, Professor of Sociology Sussex University 1968- 85, books include Karl Marx: selected writings in sociology and social philosophy (with Maximilien Rubel) 1956, Sociology: a guide to problems and literature 1962, Elites and Society 1964, Classes in Modern Society 1965, Austro- Marxism (with P. Goode) 1978, Political Sociology 1979, A Dictionary of Marxist Thought 1981, Theories of Modern Capitalism 1985, died Ditchling East Sussex 9 December 1992.

TOM BOTTOMORE was Britain's best-known and most highly regarded sociologist. He had a remarkable international reputation; wherever one went one encountered his own students and also people who had found his books the most accessible and enlightening entry into the subject. Those who knew him loved him and his death will be a great personal blow to many people. He was revered in the Third World and especially in India. His textbook Sociology (1962) was first written for Indian students and went through successive editions over several decades. He was widely respected for his untiring international work, especially for his presidency of the International Sociological Association.

Bottomore was trained at the LSE and became a lecturer there, until he left to become Professor at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, in 1965. In 1968 he returned to Sussex University and remained there until he 'retired' in 1985. The conference to mark his retirement showed how great had been his influence, drawing a galaxy of Britain's best-known scholars. Bottomore, however, kept going as active as ever until the day of his death. Among his many projects was a magisterial dictionary of 20th-century social thought (edited with William Outhwaite) that will be published shortly.

Bottomore was a lifelong Marxist. His Marxism was open, undogmatic and humane, and his work was highly regarded by non-Marxists. His selection of the writings of Karl Marx (edited with Maximilien Rubel) was published in 1956 and was for many thousands their first encounter with the real Marx. It remains the best short collection to this day. His books Elites and Society (1964) and Classes in Modern Society (1965) showed that sociology did not have to be polysyllabic and inaccessible. Later on he returned to his interests in economic sociology and produced a number of remarkable books, including his commentary on TH Marshall's Citzenship, published in 1992.

Bottomore was a great force for calm and sanity in the overcharged world of sociology after the student revolts of 1968 and the intense theoretical debates and dogmatic conflicts of the 1970s. He championed the democratic and civilised Marxism of the Austrians, whose country he loved. He was a great teacher, best in small groups and with graduate students. Often he would sit quietly, listening to strident opinions and then would inject sense and balance with a few quiet and well- chosen words.

His greatest sorrow was the death of his beloved second wife, Mary, which denied him the companionship in his retirement that he had enjoyed during their life together. He responded to this bitter blow with characteristic dignity and courage. He continued to advocate peace, social justice, the cause of the world's poor and excluded, but also democracy and sanity. He was never a believer in the violent revolutionary extremism of the Left, equally he was sure that the divisive and rigid right-wing economic liberalism that was so fashionable in the 1980s would pass away and that saner and kinder ideas would come to prevail.

If there is a word to sum up Tom Bottomore's life it would be constancy. He pursued his course untroubled by fashion and with indifference to pretension.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine